THE HIGH GROUND
A brand-new space opera set in a future world of political intrigue and alien threats, by the scriptwriter of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Emperor’s daughter Mercedes and scholarship boy Tracy have just arrived at The High Ground military academy, wher
They were flying closer to the Apex cosmódromo. The space station was immense. There was a fat central hub that extended above and below the central ring. Four large spokes attached the bulbous ring to the hub, and eight massive cables stretched from the central ring to the top and bottom of the hub. Two stubby legs jutted out from the base of the hub in a V shape. Each cylinder ended in two round pill-like structures that looked to be about four stories high. Extending from the top third of the hub were vast solar arrays comprised of interlinking hexagonal panels like glittering blue and gold wings. They gave the illusion that the cosmódromo was some kind of exotic spacefaring insect.
Tracy knew that one of those circular structures at the base of the hub held the academy. The other held the cosmódromo’s plant facilities – water recycling, oxygen production, waste disposal, and the fields that grew fresh food to help provide oxygen and also recycle the waste as fertilizer. The fresh food grown there also landed on the tables of the restaurants that served travelers, the students and the alien support staff of the cosmódromo.
The ring was basically an upscale spaceport for those making their way from distant worlds to the League capital or transferring onto ships to other worlds. In addition to restaurants and stores there were also hotels, casinos, and joy houses, which were technically illegal on a planet’s surface, but completely legal on a cosmódromo or at a military Estrella Avanzada or “star port” as the aliens termed them.
They were again in the midst of traffic. Everything from wallowing, fat-bellied freighters to elegant racing pinnaces, luxury space liners and utilitarian shuttles. All were dwarfed by the cosmódromo. The ships converged on the Apex cosmódromo like silver bees returning from a day’s labor, and vanished into the hive of docking bays. Their shuttle broke away from the pack and headed toward the docking bays that lined the circumference of the module housing The High Ground.
The klaxon sounded, three sharp bleats. Front thrusters fired and the shuttle slowly slipped into a bay.
He had made it. Now he just had to really make it.
They had been met on the shuttle by an estrella hombre who had told them he would guide them to the quadrangle for muster. He had taken the lead and Mercedes and her ladies trailed after him like desperate ducklings. The metal decking rang beneath their boot heels, the sound driving like a spike into Mercedes’ temples and making her nausea worse. She had not enjoyed zero gee. Only Sumiko had managed the flight without vomiting.
They were led down a curving corridor, through another set of sliding doors and into a flagstoned courtyard with a viewing platform at one end and jet columns all around the sides. It was filled with a seething mass of young men in uniform. Their voices were a rising and falling cadence of bass and tenor sounds with an occasional outbreak of nervous high-pitched laughter.
That was when she saw him. It was the boy from the beach. His back was against a column as if trying to merge into the stone. His fair hair stood out against the dark surface, and his uniform was a cheap pale blue unlike the midnight blue of the others. A scholarship boy. He turned his head and looked at her, and Mercedes held her breath, but not by the
The klaxon sounded, three sharp beats. Now he just had to really make it
smallest quiver of a muscle did he indicate that he knew her. She felt herself relax. Then her view of Tracy was blocked by an expanse of chest.
“Highness,” the man said, and kissed her hand. The green eyes were dancing with enjoyment as he glanced at her from beneath his lashes.
“Hello, Boho.” Mercedes wasn’t a small woman, but Beauregard Honorius Sinclair Cullen always made her feel so. “Let me be the first to welcome you.” “I rather think that honor belongs to the commandant, not a mere cadet,” she said dryly, and was pleased when his cheeks turned a dull red. Boho’s conceit was legendary.
An upperclassmen stopped by her and Boho, and executed a perfect court bow.
“Ladies, if I may escort you to the front.” He indicated the raised platform at one end of the room.
There was a door in the center of the wall behind the dais. To either side were flags. On the right was the flag of the Solar League which was blue/green with tiny globes all around the edges, and a cross of gold in the center. On the left was the flag of the Orden de la Estrella. It showed the Milky Way galaxy with a spear thrusting through its center, and over the door was the seal of The High Ground, a spaceship lifting on a plume of fire. Its landing pad was an open book, and on either side were crossed rifles.
Mercedes inclined her head. “If you will excuse us, Boho.”
As their guide led them through the milling crowd, Mercedes looked for the boy from the beach. He was being shoved into place at the very back of the crowd by a cadet whose stripes indicated he was a second-year. Tracy’s head was thrown back, chin up, glaring at the upperclassman.
The mumble of conversation subsided when Vice Admiral Conde Sergei Arrington Vasquez y Markov emerged through the door in the wall at the back of the dais. He was an imposing figure, tall and very broad, though some of it was due to a thrusting belly. Light gleamed on his nearly hairless skull.
“Welcome to The High Ground.” He paused and swept them all with a ferocious blue-eyed gaze. “This institution has stood for three hundred and forty-one years. First on the surface of old Earth, then on Ouranos, and for the past seventy-three years aboard this orbital station. Ours is a proud tradition. We honor the past. We also train officers and heroes for the challenges of the future. We have always been willing to embrace change in an effort to defend the Solar League and the billions of humans who live under its protection. This year we welcome a new change. This year The High Ground and the Orden de la Estrella welcomes the first class of women to these hallowed halls. Highness.” He saluted Mercedes.
Her hand rose in the accustomed royal gesture of acknowledgment. Then she tried to turn it into a salute, misjudged and knocked her hat off. There was the briefest ripple of laughter. Mercedes choked back a flare of anger. “God save the Emperor.” “God save the Emperor,” several hundred male voices roared out. Another man took Markov’s place, as spare as the admiral had been broad. “I am Captain Lord Manfred Zeng. I am in charge of operations at the academy. First a few rules. Reveille at five thirty a.m., breakfast followed by physical training. Classes begin at nine hundred. Lunch at thirteen hundred. In the afternoon there will be more classes and drills. Dinner is at nineteen hundred. The evenings are yours. I suggest you use them to do homework. No one is permitted down the gravity-well until three months have passed. You are permitted in the civilian areas of the station on Saturdays. Services on Sunday are mandatory. No male cadets will be permitted within five hundred feet of the ladies’ quarters.” Or what? Mercedes wondered. “Please leave through the planetside doors. Tonight there is a welcoming banquet, dress uniform required as the Emperor will be attending. Dismissed!” Mercedes and her ladies found themselves in a bubble, separated from their classmates by ten or fifteen feet. At least for now the men were reacting as if the women were toxic. “Well damn. It’s going to be hard to find a husband now,” Cipriana said. Danica once again seemed on the verge of tears. “We’re trained to impress them while dancing,” Sumiko said. “Surely we can manage to make an impression during hand-to-hand combat training.” Mercedes stayed silent. In addition to don’t fail there had been another instruction her father had given her. Find a consort. Pick the man who will share the throne with you. To protect yourself against the conservatives he will have to be a military leader. I can give you the throne. He will help you keep it.
To find out what happens next, pick up The High Ground, out now from Titan Books. www.titanbooks.com
Melinda Snodgrass is the acclaimed author of many science fiction novels, including the Circuit and Edge series. She has had a long career in television, serving as the story editor on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and has written scripts for numerous other shows. She lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.